It’s going to be bedlam on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. You know that. You’ve been there, no matter where you are. It’s the opener, for goodness sakes. And while there are all kinds of madness around the NFL – you know what I’m talking about – the South Philadelphia Sports Complex will have its "calm," a sense of normalcy, amid the energy.
“I know how the fans are going to be and I love that,” defensive end Brandon Graham said, “but for me it’s time to think straight and visualize what I’m going to do on the field and the plays I’m going to make. We want all of their energy, but we have to play our football game. Once the ball is kicked off, it’s just another game that we’re going out there with the intention of winning.”
To do that, the Eagles need to play sound, emotional and opportunistic football. Here are some things to watch against Washington ...
1. Win up front. The strength of the Redskins is their two-gapping, high-energy defensive line. Washington is really, really good inside, and they’ve got a force by the name of Ryan Kerrigan off the edge. So, it’s a pretty complete package. Brandon Brooks is on track to play at right guard as he makes a remarkable return from a torn Achilles tendon injury and he and Jason Kelce and left guard Isaac Seumalo face a significant task against a stout Washington interior defensive group. At the same time, right tackle Lane Johnson has his hands full with his great rival in Kerrigan. As much as you all want to see deep shots to wide receiver DeSean Jackson, it’s also important that the Eagles get something going in the short passing game. That said …
2. Take shots down the field. Yes, that means Jackson. The Eagles are a tough matchup for any secondary with the weapons they have, and they’re going to have some favorable matchups. If Josh Norman is assigned to Alshon Jeffery, as the Eagles expect, then Jackson and Nelson Agholor will have some chances to win one-on-one battles. Now, Washington isn’t going to be dumb here. They will shade Jackson over the top. And he may not run free all day. But the Eagles could use a “chunk” play or three to really get the Redskins on their heels defensively.
3. Prepare for Washington’s power running game. Derrius Guice missed last season with a knee injury, but the talented running back is expected to carry the load for the Redskins on the ground, with Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson helping. The left side of the Eagles’ defensive front, end Graham and tackle Fletcher Cox, have to be prepared for the challenge.
4. Get Carson Wentz into an early groove. The stats don’t lie: The Eagles ranked 31st in the NFL last season with 41 points in the first quarter after ranking third in the NFL with 106 first-quarter points in 2017. It makes a difference to start fast. Wentz hasn’t played through the preseason and he is eager to get out and move the offense. Whatever Doug Pederson can do to get the offense in sync early is critical. And that leads to …
5. Stay ahead of the chains. The Eagles struggled early in games last season because they made too many mistakes in the opening 15 minutes – penalties, lost-yardage plays, missed opportunities. Avoid the third-and-long situations with the hope that Wentz bails out the offense as he did so often in ’17 and things will be just fine.
6. Have great ball security. No duh, right. Make Washington drive the field to put points on the board.
7. Control emotions. Everyone is going to be sky-high emotionally and generally if you come busting out of the gates recklessly you’ve got to battle to keep the energy level high. The Eagles need to sustain their energy.
8. Play with urgency. The Redskins aren’t going to have left tackle Trent Williams, cornerback Fabian Moreau, and tight end Jordan Reed. Those are significant absences. The Eagles can’t think about any of that. They need to play with a fast tempo and a high level of concentration. In other words, don’t take a thing for granted.
9. Win the special teams battle. With Jake Elliott as the placekicker, Cameron Johnston as the punter, and Darren Sproles returning punts, the Eagles have an excellent chance of doing just that. Oh, and be prepared for any trickery from Washington, which has the ability to pull out the stunts.
10. Limit the pre-snap mistakes. This goes back to the mental game. The Eagles need to have laser focus for this game and for every week after. The Eagles are home and they have a chance to get the season started the right way. It looks like the Eagles have a big advantage here, right? That goes away quickly when a team loses yards with penalties and sloppy play. Turnovers, of course, are killers. So are penalties before the snap of the football that put you in a hole.
That’s just a list of 10 items. Truthfully, it could be much longer because we’re all going to be watching everything in this opener. It’s here. It’s hyped. And, treated the right way, the Eagles can take care of business and make a first-week statement with a strong, 60-minute performance.